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Bennu asteroid samples still have scientists scratching their heads

Published Dec 14th, 2023 10:07PM EST
Bennu asteroid samples
Image: NASA/Erika Blumenfeld & Joseph Aebersold

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The first analysis of the Bennu asteroid samples that NASA brought to Earth earlier this year has revealed some interesting results. We’d already determined that Bennu has an abundance of carbon and water, but a new analysis of the samples has left scientists scratching their heads.

According to a post shared on Nature, scientists working with the new samples from Bennu have been particularly taken aback by the amount of magnesium, sodium, and phosphate found in the skin of the chunks taken from Bennu. This is a composition rarely seen in meteorites, and it has left scientists a bit baffled.

While scientists aren’t quite sure what to make of these Bennu samples, there’s still a lot of work to be done when it comes to analyzing them fully. For starters, we still don’t have access to the heart of the material, which lies inside OSIRIS-REx’s sample return canister.

osiris rex
A NASA rendering of its asteroid probe. Image source: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

NASA is currently making a special screwdriver that will let scientists remove the last of the screws holding that part of the canister closed, giving access to the full breadth of the Bennu samples collected a few years ago. For now, though, there are plenty of pieces that were caught outside the canister, including a massive 3.5-centimeter-long rock, the biggest collected at Bennu thus far.

This particular rock actually jammed the spacecraft’s collection mechanism when it was sucked up. It’s a dark color, almost to the point of being black, Nature reports, and it has a bluish sheen. It’s very similar to the boulders found on the surface of the asteroid, scientists say.

The other chunks that were captured by the spacecraft are lighter in color but still just as baffling for scientists who are working to analyze them. So far, astronomers and curators have cataloged more than 1,000 Bennu samples, the report states. And that’s only counting those that are at least half a millimeter in size.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.

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